Rating the Colorado Roster – Special Teams

Note … This is the final installment in a series of unit reviews for the Colorado roster, getting us ready for the start of Fall Camp on August 4th.

Previous posts: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebackers, Defensive Backs


Colorado Special Teams Roster


Players lost: Will Oliver; Darragh O’Neill

Seniors: Wyatt Tucker Smith (LS)

Juniors: Diego Gonzalez (K); Cameron Silzer (P); John Finch (LS), Colin Johnson (H)

Sophomores: Chris Graham (K), Chris Hill (LS)


Coming this fall: Alex Kinney (K/P)

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Chris Graham … two kickoffs; one touchback … average starting yardline: O29

– Diego Gonzalez … one kickoff; no touchbacks … average starting yardline: O44

— Wyatt Tucker Smith … 57 snaps field goal/PAT … 61 punt snaps


Spring/Summer news

The future kicking star for the Colorado Buffaloes did not spend spring practices trying to figure out how to kick in the swirling winds of Folsom Field.

Instead, incoming freshman Alex Kinney spent his February and March finishing up his senior year at Rocky Mountain high school in Ft. Collins.

With kicker Will Oliver and punter Darragh O’Neill – both four-year starters – off to other pursuits, Colorado needs new starters at each position.

Unfortunately, the presumptive starter at punter and likely starter at kicker was not available this spring to practice with the team. This left junior Diego Gonzalez and sophomore Chris Graham to audition for the place-kicking (and kickoff) jobs.

Buff fans learned little about Kinney’s competitors this spring.

In three spring practices, Chris Graham hit on five-of-seven field goal attempts, connecting on kicks between 33 and 42 yards, with a miss from 40 yards (a 27-yarder was blocked). Diego Gonzalez, meanwhile, made four-of-seven, with his makes coming from between 33 and 45 yards, with misses from 32, 35, and 42 yards. (No punting stats were kept).

In the abbreviated spring game, Diego Gonzalez made a 38-yard field goal and missed a 51-yarder. In punting, Gonzalez had one 46 yard punt, while Chris Graham had three punts, averaging 36.3 yards per kick.

Not much information to go on …

As for kick returners, there were no statistics kept on kick or punt returns during the spring scrimmages, and none occurred during the spring game. In the post-spring depth chart, wide receivers Shay Fields and Nelson Spruce were listed as Nos. 1 and 2 on the depth chart. While the kickoff return position was left as “TBA (in the fall)”, it is likely that Phillip Lindsay, who had 36 of CU’s 41 kickoff returns in 2014, will be CU’s primary kick returner in 2015.


What others say about the Colorado defensive backs

Lindy’s … “Diego Gonzalez appears to have the slight edge and leg power over Chris Graham to replace place-kicker Will Oliver, who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last season. Alex Kinney, one of the prizes of the Buffs’ 2015 recruiting class, could push Gonzalez for the role, but he will likely only handle the punting duties … Phil Lindsey will again handle the kick returns. The sophomore holds the CU freshman record with 1,348 all-purpose yards”.

Athlon’s … “CU lost four-year starters at placekicker and punter buy might have addressed both positions by signing Alex Kinney from just up the road in Fort Collins. Kinney was rated among the nation’s best punters coming out of high school. He could steal the placekicking duties away from Diego Gonzalez, a lefty who has struggled with accuracy but has a strong leg, and walk-on Chris Graham. There could be some bumps in the road here”.


The Bottom Line

When Mike MacIntyre was hired by the University of Colorado, the Buffs were set at very few positions. The kickers, though, were in place, with kicker Will Oliver and punter Darragh O’Neill returning as two year starters. Both kickers had two seasons remaining in Boulder, giving MacIntyre and his staff three recruiting classes to find their successors.

In 2013, the Buffs brought in two new prospects. Diego Gonzalez was brought in as the last member of the Recruiting Class of 2013, signing with Colorado in July. Gonzalez came to Boulder by way of Monterrey Tech, a school in Mexico. The other recruit was Chris Graham, a preferred walk-on from Burlingame, California.

In 2014, the Buffs brought in … no new scholarship kickers or punters.

In 2015, the Buffs are bringing in Alex Kinney, who may replace both O’Neill and Oliver before he is done.

Three recruiting classes, and all CU has done to replace its four year starters at punter and kicker is to bring in a kicker from Mexico and an all-in-one prospect.


Now, Kinney may turn out to be the second coming of Mason Crosby. Kinney will bring the following numbers to Boulder … As a senior, he averaged 41.6 yards for 47 punts, with a long of 66 and nine inside-the-20; he scored 58 points as he made all 34 of his extra point kicks and 8-of-12 field goals, including a 57-yard boot that tied the eighth-longest in state history. In addition, 51 of his 54 kickoffs went for touchback.

Good numbers, but will they translate to the college game? If Kinney gets hurt, or just doesn’t work out, will CU fans feel confident with a walk-on punter and a transfer-from-Mexico kicker as their only remaining options?

As for the remainder of the CU special teams, there are just as many question marks.

The Buffs were 90th in the nation last year in punt returns, with Nelson Spruce leading the team (12 for 90 yards). The Buffs were better in kickoff returns, coming in 18th nationally, led by Phillip Lindsay, who had 36 returns, going for 849 yards (a 23.6 yard average).

On coverage, Colorado was a woeful 104th in the nation, allowing over 10 yards per return. On kickoffs, the Buffs were only slightly better (74th nationally), allowing 21.43 yards per return.

Kick returns and kick coverage should improve, the theory goes, with the Buffs bringing in more speed, and getting more experienced (and talented) depth on the coverage teams.

That’s the theory, anyway …


CU Special Teams Grade … D.

Colorado needs to improve in all facets of the game if the Buffs are to post a winning record and go bowling in 2015. The offense started to click last season, and the defense – and least in terms of personnel and depth – seems to be poised to make significant strides this fall.

All of that improvement could be for naught, however, if the CU special teams are a consistent liability. Special teams coordinator Toby Neinas has his work cut out for him in improving numbers on the coverage teams, but there is reason to believe the Buffs will be better in those areas this fall.

As to the specialists, the 2015 season is a complete crapshoot for the Buffs and their fans. Alex Kinney could prove to be the answer for the Buffs as both a kicker and a punter, or he could be a quality high school kicker who doesn’t work out (see, most recently: Grossnickle, Zach; and Goodman, Aric).

There is just too much at stake for the season to come down to a true freshman to hold down two important positions on the team. Coach MacIntyre have had three recruiting classes come to Boulder, knowing they needed replacements at kicker and punter starting in 2015. Colorado has produced NFL kickers and punters in the past, so recruiting quality specialists should not have proven this difficult.

Will Oliver and Darragh O’Neill were four year starters, and have moved on.

And the season will open not knowing if their replacements have been found.


3 Replies to “Rating the CU Roster – ST”

  1. Hope Diego can get his confedence up and going ,it has always seemed to be a issuse with kickers at all levels of the game . If he can punt that way he needs to be the guy ,man if you can pin them back and make it 80 or even 90 yard to score its going to be tough . Damn it sucks when you score and the kicker can`t get point after or even a field goal .Just the little things that can win or break a game . Go Buffs

  2. Brutal! I hope they can utilize Diego as the true punter he is and quit trying to push a square peg in a circle by forcing him to be a place kicker. The kid can punt!

    1. That what I remember hearing when we brought this kid in. Why isn’t he tearing it up in practice? Booming punts in Colorado should be no problem for him.

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